Lecture 15: Philippians | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 15: Philippians

Course: New Testament Survey, Acts to Revelation

Lecture 15: Philippians

This is the 15th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)

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Christ is the very image of the invisible God. He partakes of his essence. Jesus is preeminent, because he’s God and he’s the reconciler of all things. Jesus is Lord of Creation and Lord of the Church. Paul calls the Philippians to unity.

Flow Assignment Colossians 1:15-20

Of the four Christological passages in the New Testament: John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1 are probably the four major ones. In one sense all of the New Testament is Christological. Of that, Colossians is a very important passage.

‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him - all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers - all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross - through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.’

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Compared to Adam which was made in the image of God; Jesus is the image of God. He partakes in the very essence of who God is. It is interesting to see in Hebrews that Old Testament sacrifices are only shadows compared with the image which is separated from the reality. The image partakes in the very reality of it. Christ is the image of the invisible God; in other words Jesus is God. He is the first born of all creation. This especially has the idea of sovereignty in it in the Hebrew culture; being the first born. The first born would receive all the privileges and authority of the being the first born of the parents. We already saw when this is reversed in regards to Jacob and Esau and see the same thing with Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph even tries to change his hands around as the first born receives the blessings. Psalm 89:27 says about David, ‘I will make him by first born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ David was the first born in his family, he was the youngest and he wasn’t the first king either. Hebrew parallelism says that he will become sovereign. And this is what it is saying about Jesus here. Jesus is the sovereign over all creation; he is not part of creation, he is the sovereign. By him all things were created; he is not a created being but he is the creator of all things. JW’s use this to say that Jesus is a creature ending up with polytheism mixed with Aryanism. But, instead all things were created by Jesus as the passage says; both in the heavens and on earth. You can’t say now that this doesn’t mean everything and there are some things he didn’t create. No, in the heavens and on earth, all things were created by him. Both visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers; these are referring to angels. Angels are a huge issue in Colossians. All these angelic power were created by Christ. The word invisible is explained in this line. He is the creator of all things invisible and these are the invisible things that he has in mind here. So he articulates a little clearer what these things are and it is all these angelic power that he created. This is important here in Colossians because they are worshiping angels and he is saying that is silly because Jesus created these angels.

The use of the words heavens and the earth is a way of saying everything. Basically, he has made a cosmic statement here and then he defines it so that we understand what he means. Thus all things were created by him. All he is doing is stressing the point, ‘I mean everything.’ I mean everything that you can possible imagine. So he articulates it. Then notice in 16d, he returns to his main thought again. All things have been created by him but then he adds ‘for him.’ So he adds a thought that is not in 16a; everything was created for his glory. This is a purpose clause. The preposition designates purpose inside the fences. Thus he is before all things, eternal and always existed and in him all things in the created world hold together or cohere in Christ. Apart from God, the physical world would fall apart. God is sustaining the physical world moment by moment, every breath and every molecule is being held together by Christ. So he is dynamically present in the physical world. He is not absent but instead he is present. We reject any concept that the physical world operates apart from God. I took this whole passage as a bilateral; all of verse 16 shows Jesus as the sovereign God. He is supreme because he is the creator. The bilateral means your reason is in the middle. Why? It is because he made everything. Verses 17 to 18 shows that Jesus is Lord over creation. It shifts in the middle saying that he is over the church. He is Lord of creation and Lord of the church and he is the beginning, the idea of ruler. He is also the first one to be raised from the dead. This is for the reason that he is to have first place in everything. It was the Father’s pleasure for all the fullness of deity to dwell in Christ. A parallel verse in Colossians 2:9 says that for him all the fullness of deity lives in him. That was the Father’s good pleasure.

We see that the Father is the source. The Father reconciled everything to himself in this manner having made peace through the blood of the Cross. This was reconciliation through God and the universe which came through the Cross. The two thoughts include the reconciliation of God and the world and that Jesus to be God. Verse 18 says that Jesus is preeminent in the church; he is Lord of the church. Jesus is first in everything because he is God and he is the reconciler. So he preeminent because he is God; he is the reconciler of all things which makes Jesus Lord of creation and Lord of the Church.

I. Introduction to Philippians

I think Philippians was written from Rome in the early 60’s. Some think that it was written from Caesarea or Ephesus. Ephesus could be the place but I think it was Rome. The Philippians had sent Paul a financial gift, maybe more than once to help him in his ministry. So Paul wants to send his thanks to them in this letter both in chapter 1 and 4. It seems that the church had some problems with a lack of unity. Even though it is a letter of joy, there are indicators of difficulty in the church. The people are not united in the way they should be and so the church seems to be fractured somewhat. This is very common in churches; so common in fact that churches can be theologically on target but then quarrel about things. When you get people together, then there will always be tension. So you see a lot of emphasis in standing together and being united in this letter and being harmonious. It is interesting that in chapter 4, he specifically named Euodia and Syntyche to be united in the Lord. It is clear that they are not getting along with each other. Right in the middle of the letter, there is a warning about false teachers. Some have seen this as an indication of a different letter inserted in Philippians. It is always good to think of the structure of the letter as a whole. Why do we have this sudden discussion on these false teachers? It sort of fits well because if the church is going to be united, they have to be united around the true Gospel. They can’t be united with following these false teachers.

II. A call to Unity for the Sake of the Gospel (Philippians 1:12-30)

So Paul begins very interestingly by saying that he and Timothy are slaves of Christ. He doesn’t call himself an Apostle. It’s very unusually for Paul not to call himself an Apostle. Why? I think he wants to emphasize that he is a servant, especially in a church that has a lack of unity. He is a slave and wants to be an example to them to what Christ has called us to be. So he doesn’t emphasize his authority but instead he talks about his servanthood and his ministry to others. And then the other thing that is really fascinating that you don’t see in any other letter; he mentions the overseers and deacons. Here overseers include elders, deacons and pastors; interestingly the word pastors only occur once in reference to church leaders in the New Testament. Elders are mentions more than any and then overseers. So the typical terms in the New Testament are elders and overseers, not pastors. Then Paul goes into a thanksgiving and he is very thankful for their partnership in the Gospel. That was brought on by financial help as shown in chapter 4. Of course it is more than just their financial help. An obvious indication that they are in line with the Gospel is the financial help which is always true with churches. One indication that we belong to God is what we do with our money, so the Philippians were very helpful in regards to supporting Paul’s ministry. That is why Paul is convinced that they are Christians. He says, ‘I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy for all of you because of your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now. For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus’ return. For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God’s grace together with me.’

I think that this is a great word on the preservation of the saints. Since God has called us, he will keep us, since he has begun a good work in us. In verses 9-11, he prays that they will grow in love; that is the primary aim of our lives as Christians that we grow to be more loving, kind and generous and giving. That love is informed by knowledge and understanding and maturity. If you don’t know what love is, he can go in another direction. You can define love in such a way that is actually wrong. So he prays that love will be informed by understanding. The best way to grow in understanding is to know the Scriptures, to know God’s truth. Paul never separates knowing from doing. The knowing is to make us more loving and the love is to translate into actions which will bring glory to God.

A. Paul as a Model of One Who Lives Wholly for the Sake of the Gospel (Phil 1:12-26)

Paul now talks of a situation that happened in Rome where he was in prison. We have these people that love Paul and they are preaching the Gospel more boldly because he is in prison. And there are others who are preaching the Gospel but don’t seem to like Paul. It seems that Paul’s risk taking and boldness in preaching the Gospel was such a good example to others. They saw how Paul lived and it had an impact on them. I think the reason that Paul tells this story is due to disunity in Rome. There are some who are preaching Christ that have bad motives. We don’t know for sure but perhaps they didn’t like the fact that Paul was more popular than they were. This is again, human rivalry and selfish ambition, wanting to be first, wanting to be honored and praised. We don’t know. But Paul tells the story to provide an example as their theology is good as they are preaching Christ and he rejoices in this. They are preaching Christ. Paul is happy because he lives only for the Gospel. Even though they may be doing it for the wrong reasons, Paul still praises God. We see this in the next paragraph. Paul believes that this will turn out for his deliverance in some way. Perhaps he means his salvation on the last day, being spared from God’s wrath because that is his hope and expectation. He will not be shamed on the day of judgement; he will stand before Christ who will say, ‘well done.’ We have that famous verse, ‘for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.’ This is that Christo perspective that Paul lives for.

The Gospel is Paul’s passion, his desire, his love. Then Paul thinks, ‘would it be better to live or die. That is true of every one of us in this room, if we die, we would be in heaven and we would be with God. Nothing would be greater; no earthy desire could compare to being with God. Nothing! But Paul then thinks there is another reason operating in his life. Although he would like to die, he would also like to live so that he can minister and strengthen others in the faith. That is the only reason Paul wants to live, for the advancement of the Gospel and he says that the Lord agrees with him and that he will live for that reason. As long as I live, I am going to make others happy in God. The only reason to live is to make others strong in the faith, for that is the only thing that will truly make us happy while we are on the earth.

B. Exhortations for the Church (Phil 1:27-2:18)

We see that the whole purpose of the letter is in 1:27, ‘Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that - whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent - I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel.’ This is what the whole letter is about. God wants us to be united as Christians and living for the Gospel. Live for the Gospel and live for the Gospel alone in a united way and then the witness for the Church will be powerful. But alas, people get divided over things in the church which are not always as simple as they seem. So Paul says in chapter 2, ‘if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.’ He is saying ‘if’ and we know that he is encouragement in Christ, there is comfort in love and there is fellowship in the Spirit along with affection and mercy. Paul is telling them to be united and to live for the sake of the Gospel. A call to unity has to be focused on the Gospel. In order to be together, you need something to hold you together and only Christ can do that. For you can’t be united just for the sake of being united, it doesn’t work. We need something that is higher and bigger than us to bring us together and that is the Gospel. And of course, Jesus is the supreme example of someone who renounced his rights to live for the glory of God. We also see in 2:12 where he says to obey, not only in his presence but in his absence. He says to accomplish your own salvation with fear and trembling. Or work your salvation with fear and trembling. How? Verse 13; for God is the one working in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure. Whatever we do in obeying God is the results of God working in us. So the work that we do is the results of God working in us. We have the promise that he will complete the work; it is God who gives us this. It is God who even gives us the desire to continue. But if you sin then you should stop sinning. There is no excuse for sinning. Everything good we do is because of God and everything bad we do is because of us.

C. Exhortations to Imitation (Phil 2:19-30)

Timothy and Epaphroditus are commented because they are examples of people who live for Christ. Paul says in verse 20, ‘I have no one like him who would genuinely worry about your welfare. He thinks about you and how you are doing. He lives for the Gospel and he is worried about other Christians. There is a genuine concern. Timothy is different because he doesn’t only think about himself, he thinks of the Gospel. They are both put forth as examples in verses 25-30. He is the one most likely who has been ministering in Philippi. He came to visit Paul and he almost died on the way and the Philippians were worried about him. God had mercy on him and spared his life. If Epaphroditus had died, Paul would have grieved more than he could bear. God had mercy on both of us, him for being saved and me not losing a trusted friend and helper. Paul encourages those to receive him and honor people like him for he nearly died for the work of Christ.

III. A Call to Imitate Paul and not the False Teachers (Phil 3:1-4:1)

There are good examples out there of those who serve God. But not everybody is a good example. There are teachers who teach religion, nice people but really dangerous. There are people, Christian people who don’t really hold to the Gospel. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. Paul warns them here about Jewish teachers, ‘they are dogs’ watch out for them. This is what the Jews said about the gentiles. The Jews said that the gentiles were dogs, unclean. They don’t belong to God. Dogs and pigs were unclean animals. So Paul reverses this; these Jews that don’t believe in Christ; they are the false teachers. They are the evil workers thinking they are good for their devotion to the Torah. But Paul says that they are not good workers and he says to watch out for the mutilation of the flesh! They call it circumcision but Paul calls it mutilation. He uses a Greek word ‘catatomi’ a pagan kind of rite for circumcision. You are just cutting yourself in order to please God. Then he says, ‘we Christians are the true circumcision.’ Those who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials. True circumcision is spiritual because of the Holy Spirit. We don’t boast in ourselves but in Christ. We don’t boast in the flesh. But as far as human credentials are concerned; I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews and lived according to the law as a Pharisee. So Paul knows what tribe he is from; he knows everything about his descent. He was named after Saul being the first king out of the tribe of Benjamin. Not only that I persecuted the church because I thought they were so wrong. Note that Paul’s conversion was not of a person at the bottom of the barrel as such; he was a person at the top. But he says I consider those things a lost because of Christ now. He is using the same language as Jesus used. All of those things are now lost because he now knows Christ.

The greatest thing now, is knowing Christ. He considers all of his accomplishments nothing. He doesn’t have righteousness from obeying the Law but his righteousness comes from obeying Christ. His former life was a life of idolatry and promotion of self. This is not a good way to life because you always have to keep up appearances. But in the Gospel we can simply admit that we are sinners. We were a sick bunch of people, but now we have a Savior. We are being saved and changed by his grace. In verses 12-16, Paul goes on to say that he is pursuing perfection, but I will not reach it in this life. There is a tension here, but he pursues that perfection because he wants to be more like Jesus. Anyone who is mature in Christ knows that they can’t be perfection. These Jewish false teachers think they can be perfect in what they are teaching, but they can’t. 3:17 Paul says to imitate the right kind of people; imitate me and people like me. However, Paul says that he is not great, but he says to imitate people on the basis of what Christ has done in people’s lives. Don’t be fooled by those people who are enemies of the Cross who are destined for hell. At the end of the chapter, we look forward on being transformed on the last day.

IV. A Final Call to Unity and Joy (Phil 4:2-9)

In chapter 4, he addresses Euodia and Syntyche, perhaps two female missionaries. These were prominent spiritual women who had significant ministries and are not getting along with one another. Paul is telling other people in the church to help them to get together. If we know people who are fighting in the church, we need to do what we can to bring them together. To find some means to bring them to harmony. I should say something about the message of joy that overcomes division. Then finally in verses 6 & 7 ‘do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. When we worry, we are more apt to say things that are negative and hurtful. When you worry, bring it all into God’s presence. Tell God your worries; set them before God and do it with thanksgiving. I tell God all my worries and then I just continue to worry. Paul says to do it with thanksgiving which means you acknowledge the power of God in that situation. It means that you are set it before him and you are acknowledging his sovereignty. His ruler ship begins to take a hold on your life. You are thanking God that he is almighty God. It is then that we begin to trust him.

V. Thanksgiving (Phil 4:10-20)

At the end of the letter, he thanks the Philippians for their gift. Martin Dibelious says that this is the most unthankful thanks he has ever read. I don’t agree with Dibelious, but why does Paul keep doing this? Why does Paul say, thanks, but I didn’t need it. It is because he also wants them to know that the joy of giving is on their account; God is not their debtor. The joy is ours when we give to God. The reward of giving is ours more so than others. God doesn’t need our finances but he always uses us for his purposes. The same goes for ministry; there is a joy of being in ministry and the reward is ours and God uses us in that way to bless us.

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